Archive for the ‘Homo electronicus’ Category

Remington Rand 5

I just purchased a 1935 portable manual typewriter…
a Remington Rand 5. A thing of beauty, all black and mechanical
it’s brought back, in one fell swoop, the joys of hearing thoughts
to the clattering accompaniment of letters onto paper.

Here’s a poem that was its first use:

The thing that’s good
about the sound
of old steel slapping ink
is that it’s the sound of thought
that’s just escaped the mind.

It’s not like the thought
that nicely spews
all tidy on the screen
but thoughts that jump
from out your head
onto the waiting page.


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I recently had an opportunity to talk with a colleague who asked about my aversion to routers-filters that create an automatic rather than personal “portcullis” to the Keep housing the information needed from a particular community or resource. The fortress defense of servers creates a way for the administrators to make it very difficult to set up the professional version of the increasingly popular open and accountable social communities of Web 2.0

I believe that the Internet creates a different paradigm for information than that information distribution system we currently know. In the book Avatars of the Word by James O’Donnell, the author makes the point that when printing was invented it destroyed the control the monks of the scriptorium had on knowledge. Now everyone could say anything and the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment broke out giving us democracy and terrorism! He makes the point that the Internet is doing the same thing to the printed word in all its current form.

This means to me that Knowledge Management–centralizing all data–as well as Information Assurance–reviewing all content–is the same as the service provided by the monks that wasn’t done by Gutenberg! What had to happen is that the author not the publisher became responsible for their words and governments sprang up to make those right basic–as we did in the Bill of Rights Article One. But an unexpected outcomes was that all the people who wrote the new ideas and all the princes who now had limited power found that there was no over-arching control to keep their ideas and fortunes safe. This led to the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty said that one country/principality couldn’t fight another country/principality over religion but had to respect the sovereignty of that other country/principality’s right to self-determination. This is the basis of all nations in place today. However, terrorists (and in our own country–state’s rights folks who banded together to make the Confederacy) disagree with national sovereignty. So they attack other countries, not from another country (which be in violation of the Peace of Westphalia or entangle that country by its association with terrorism), but from an organizational framework. We’ve been pulled into the conflict by 9/ll even though we said we wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists. We’re not embroiled in dealing with Hezbollah, Taliban and Al Qaeda as if they were countries…

This comes to cyberspace when we don’t consider the author of content as sovereign but hold the ISP liable (for the network) or the server farm (for the storage). But the Internet was created to allow maximum freedom due to its founder’s belief that no one could know now who would be alive after a nuclear exchange. Because half of the people on the ARPANET were academics, they treasured authored and peer-reviewed content since it would be the best answer to the questions of the military on how to secure life after nuclear attack.

Today, we are beset by cyber agents–both bots and hackers–who wish to overthrow the Peace of Westphalia’s view of privacy and security in cyberspace. This is why cyberspace is a domain now of warfare rather than just a system of communication. If it is a “place” then it can have criminals and warriors. So does this verify our need for security against all visitor’s to our server?

If we protect our data in a fortress’ “keep”–our network’s server–we have at least two choices for its protection. Consider everyone a “bad” guy and create a “portcullis” in our wall that checks who can come in–slowing everyone down, making everyone angry who’s our friend and making our enemies more sneaky and tricky. But if we give everyone access to the information, like we do with currency or television, we can increase information and wealth transfer. With person-based tracking–like credit cards and cable television–we can record everyone’s transactions.

I would suggest that “information wants to be free” and that it is now as impossible to control it anymore than it has been possible for books to be banned successfully. We must instead make people accountable for their own actions and words rather than holding other’s responsible for their customer’s actions. The military can be more feudal for information due to national security issues but it gets most of its tactical information from open source and increasingly must operate in that open environment when it supports disaster response and humanitarian support…

So–if we’re to succeed in Irregular Warfare, interact with our citizens, “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” as the Declaration of Independence promises we must remember the individual rather than the organization…or we will fall prey to tyranny.

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The news has been filled recently with the dangers of social networking. We’re constantly warned about how someone on Facebook was a psychopathic predator luring young girls to their deaths. In business, we’re told by our computer security staff that we can’t have access to LinkedIn because some nefarious hacker might steal the company’s secrets. I’d like to offer another perspective.

There is little doubt that we need to know who we’re talking with, with whom we’re sharing the private facts of our lives. It is this information that provides us with those most precious of gifts of democracy: private capital, private thoughts, private property. But we need to remember in which Age we are living. No longer do we need to be concerned about the “fortress keep” of our information’s servers; this is outmoded thinking and really impossible if you want information to be free. If you wish to be able to blog as I am here without the fear of having these thoughts be grounds for imprisonment as has been in many nations for thousands of years, you have to give freedom of access to a shared community. We live where “openness and transparency” of government is the rule–it is after all the basis of our democracy as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Instead of being afraid, we need a way of holding ourselves accountable for our actions as we interact with each other’s information. We have such powers: we have the ability to invite people to our information, to approve our transactions for commerce, to block those who seek to invade our virtual space. We do not need an empty and faceless library where all information is available without any wise Librarian’s assistance and oversight. We do not need the autonomous “intelligent network” either that pushes information to us or harvests information from us without our knowledge. These are the conditions that have been foreseen by science fiction writers since the dawn of the 20th century. They saw the former as the State of Tyranny (as imagined in 1984, Brave New World, We and hundreds more…) and they saw the other as the Terminator of ideas that believes, like Eagle Eye humorously portrayed it, that we are betrayers of the ideals it had decided were true since we differ with what has been written!

If we can but stay with the libertarian ethos of the Internet’s founders, protecting the network and its servers as independent and precious resources, we will realize that each server is a collection of the intellectual capital (or virtual property) of its authors and therefore must be protected. This protection, however, is not done by others–like a police state–but rather by us. Why? If it is the responsibility of an author to check the facts, mute the inventive, balance the perspective and then submit to the “peer review” of a shared community of ideas, the Internet will remain what it was intended to be.

Otherwise–everything is either hidden or suspect–and we move back from open evidence-based science constantly open to new hypothesis and proven by replication to the closed wizardry of alchemy where only the initiates of a covert craft know the “truth” that must remain occult from the masses!

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